Review by Akheon
"At your own risk..."
Mass Effect 3 is basically a third-person shooter with some streamlined RPG-elements. I never played Mass Effect 1, but really enjoyed Mass Effect 2, so I was looking forward to trying out this one, purportedly the last game in the series. Note that I played without DLC and never touched the multiplayer-mode. I also knew very little of the game before starting to play it. Here's what happened...
I imported a character from Mass Effect 2 when I started playing, and was genuinely interested in seeing the plot progress from where it had left off previously.
The game starts after a time skip, during which Shepard lost nearly all his possessions and crew from the last game. You're back to square one as far as being a respectable commander and a space hero goes. Understandable, but a little disappointing.
Mass Effect 3 is designed so that it works as a stand-alone game, with your story decisions in the past only influencing non-critical things. It's understandable. Still a little disappointing.
Hours pass. I notice the plot doesn't hold together as well as before... Your "allies" from the last game, Cerberus, have turned cartoonishly evil and wreak havoc around the galaxy. Some force-fed drama ensues. Shepard survives from so many near-death situations it loses all meaning eventually. Intense situations that deep down make little sense are plentiful.
Maybe one of the problems is the extremely epic setting. Reapers are coming and all life is threatened in all of existence. You can't get much grander than that. They wanted to finish the Mass Effect-trilogy with a bang? Understandable, but this is just getting ridiculous. I sincerely think it may have been a better idea to take this game to a different direction altogether. It's obvious the writers forsook plot integrity in favor of all these big, spectacular, somewhat contrived moments.
It's a darker game than Mass Effect 2. There's plenty of character-driven charm to be found, like usual, but as a whole the game world feels emptier. Less to do and see. Well, there's a galactic war going on, so maybe it's excusable in a way.
Finally, the endings are a disappointment. Suiting the game's unnecessarily epic direction, the endings are massive, abstract and don't really give much of a closure to you. All the character moments and tough decisions from the past will feel meaningless after all's been said and done... and that is likely a sub-optimal end to a character-driven story. Not to mention the writing itself is spotty in the finale. I think the lore of this series deserved better.
So to put it short, the game's story is memorable, but not always in a good way.
Gameplay - Combat
Combat is similar to Mass Effect 2, albeit with some added things like being able to roll. Sprinting and melee systems are improved, and some of your old skills work a bit differently - perhaps due to balancing issues and such. You also fight many new types of enemies in the game. I felt the combat was generally fairly enjoyable and intense, and the (default) difficulty felt more harsh in comparison to Mass Effect 2. Not bad at all...
But occasionally frustration set in because some of the design choices here are clearly insane. For example, a certain type of common enemy can drag you to a Quick Time Event-sequence with them. This does not in any way improve the gameplay, rather, it's annoying as heck. Also, all the more powerful enemies have a way to insta-kill you in a flash, and you can't prevent it once they start their attack. It's really cheap, not to mention it limits your options in the game. Why is a melee-focused character presented as a viable option, if getting too close to your foes leads you getting insta-killed? Or bombarded with these annoying QTEs? Maybe Mass Effect took some bad influence from the Dead Space-games and just had to get a few QTEs and gory death sequences in there.
Another somewhat disappointing thing was that you don't have too many squad members in this game. I had four to five characters from which to choose my team for most of the game, which is far less than in Mass Effect 2. I would've liked more variety, but this is not too bad, I guess.
As usual, you can upgrade your characters' skills with squad points you get from leveling up. Each skill has up to 6 levels this time around, which is pretty nice. That's close to as far as the RPG elements go in this game. Everything is fairly streamlined, which you can interpret as being either a good or a bad thing.
Something new to this game is the weapon weight system, forcing you to choose between the weapons you're going to use and their customization a little more carefully than before. Too much weight, and your tech use slows down. I liked this system, and it granted more depth to preparing for combat than there ever was in Mass Effect 2.
So, to put it short, there are both good and bad things in the combat. Mostly good things, though.
Gameplay - Outside Combat
Much of your time outside combat is spent running around areas. Wish you could speed it up more, but unfortunately not.
Galaxy Map works a bit differently from before. You don't scan individual planets and pick up resources anymore; instead, you scan areas of the system you're in by sending in an impulse that picks up any noteworthy things in the vicinity, like fuel or ancient artifacts people are willing to pay you for. Unfortunately sending the impulse also has the side effect of attracting Reapers to your location, forcing you to move around a lot and divide exploration to smaller chunks in between missions. It adds some intensity to hanging around the Galaxy Map, and I thought it was a pretty interesting addition. Even though the Reapers don't really pose a challenge to avoid.
Conversing with people is fairly stimulating as they usually have something interesting to say. Although in this game there are less people to simply walk up and talk to in comparison to Mass Effect 2.
As usual, there are Paragon and Renegade prompts during some scenes, used to interrupt someone. They are handled in a more unpredictable way than previously, and again, bring some extra intensity to gameplay outside combat.
The game keeps track of how good a military you've prepared for your final assault against the Reapers. You gain allies by doing missions, discussing with people or finding stray fleets from the various star systems. One thing that bothered me (which I only found out after having completed the game) was that you can't get a very high military score unless you also get the DLC and play multiplayer. Since your military score directly influences how good an ending you'll get, I felt sort of betrayed afterwards. You're saying that my honest effort at completing the game as well as I could... was not good enough? I also have to get your stinkin' DLC and play an extra mode I'm not really interested in? Modern games, bah.
In short, it plays like you'd expect a Mass Effect-game to play, with some small new innovations and de-evolutions.
Visuals and sound
Art direction and graphics are among the best things in the game. The war-ravaged landscapes of the exotic planets you end up visiting in are breathtaking, and the Reapers themselves a truly disturbing foe to face. You could go on and nitpick about textures or something, but in general the game looks gorgeous and the different areas have plenty of variety to them. I've no complaints.
Sounds are also quite apt. Everything is more loud than in Mass Effect 2, which is annoying in a way. Much like the stakes are higher, the sounds are more explosive and ground-shaking, especially the sound the Mass Relays make. Otherwise, I don't really have complaints in this area either.
Music is thrilling and cinematic for a large part. There are also some more relaxed rhythmic, ambient or electronic pieces. The sound is professional and, again, apt. Not the most distinctive and memorable music out there, but it works well in the context of the game.
Finally, the voice acting is close to excellent. The characters become alive thanks to the good performances of their actors. Thankfully most of the material the actors are working with is also good...
Game Length & Replayability
My thorough playthrough through the default difficulty lasted over 30 hours. The playtime probably varies a lot depending on what difficulty you play on and how interested you are in the sidequests of the game.
There is some replayability to Mass Effect 3, since you can try out different character classes that have different skills to plow through the game with, and the dialogue and some of your story options vary depending on your playing style and (especially) decisions you made in the past games of the series. However, without importing a character from a previous game, your options are rather limited.
The general gameplay can get just monotonous enough that it doesn't stand additional playthroughs well. Just a hunch. And the ending can leave such a sour taste to your mouth you may never want to see this game again. Another hunch.
I might some day get the first game as well, and then play through all three games again using the same new character. Until then, I'll leave Mass Effect 3 to rest on the shelf.
For me, I'd say it rounds up to around 6/10. There's plenty of good in Mass Effect 3, but I couldn't help but feel bitter and empty after finishing it. Both for the story shortcomings and the frustrating combat moments. I'd say you get the most out of it if you've played the previous games first, so maybe start from Mass Effect 1 or 2 and work your way up.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 06/05/13
Game Release: Mass Effect 3 (EU, 03/09/12)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.